Tag Archives: leni riefenstahl

XL Popcorn: Olympia

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 438/1007Title: Olympia 1. Teil — Fest der Völker (Festival of Nations) and Olympia 2. Teil — Fest der Schönheit (Festival of Beauty)
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Year: 1938
Country: Germany

Is it possible to develop a crush on a gold medal winning American pole vaulter from the 1936 Berlin Olympics? No? Alright then.

On the 1001 Movies list there are three documentary films depicting the Olympic Games. There is the 1965 film Tokyo Olympiad which focuses on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and then the two Olympia films depicting the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Whilst I will get to the Japanese one at some point I couldn’t turn down the chance of seeing what what the fuss is about Olympia.

I enjoy reading about film history and Leni Riefenstahl is one of those directors where it is hard not to be fascinated. There are so many questions I would like to ask about her, but mainly this one: “Would we remember her if her legacy wasn’t so closely linked to the Nazi Party?”.

I have now watched her three main films, the two Olympia movies and Triumph of the Willand I still have this question as well as another one: when does promotion become propaganda? With Triumph of the Will it is pretty obvious how this is propaganda, not so much with Olympia. Why? Because I don’t see how a sports documentary film that spends more time on Jesse Owens, Olympic sailing or the very attractive pole vaulter Earle Meadows than it does on Nazi officials could really be propaganda based.

Here’s the thing, I don’t really enjoy watching sport on the television. I was very much prepared to be surfing the web and checking in on this documentary as a half-watch. I mean, these Olympics happened nearly 80 years ago, it’s not like you can feel tense watching it… and yet you do. In these short depictions of events you automatically start to root for people. In the women’s high jump competition I was actually saddened when the British athlete didn’t win gold. What the actual hell!?

Also of interest was the opening ceremony where apart from Germany I saw only three other nations giving the ‘salute’: Austria (obviously), Italy (makes sense) and France (what the what!?).

Riefenstahl spends a sizeable amount of the opening minutes of both movies in a form of worship of the human body in both clothed and unclothed forms. It’s very classical and ethereal, but the really interesting parts is the sport itself. The fact that, in order to shoot Olympia, she came up with a bunch of techniques in order to best showcase the different sports, things that we use to this day.

Her love of the human form and her knowledge of how certain camera angles can work during her propaganda work heavily influenced the framing of nearly every shot. Under her direction there are few Olympic athletes that escape from looking like heroes. Some get more treatment then others, but obviously she focuses mainly on the winners of the events. That does mean the German athletes get more limelight, but they did top the medal table…

In the end, this is always going to be one of those films that inspires differing opinions. It really depends how readily you can remove politics from what is, undoubtedly, a ground-breaking piece of sports journalism.

Ebert’s Greats – The Searchers and Triumph of the Will

Okay, so whilst I save up to go on travels and plan future things like a wedding this bucket list blog is beginning to become a review blog. Thing is that whilst I am waiting to get enough money to make a trip to Japan things like living in another country or trying foie gras reading books, watching movies and listening to albums are a nice way to nibble away at some of these really long culture items.

As such this is the first time since opening the Roger Ebert item that I can update the numbers with two new watches.

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 170/409

the-searchers-2 Title: The Searchers
Director: John Ford
Year: 1956
Country: United States

A recent metapoll of the greatest films ever released placed The Searchers as the ninth greatest film ever made. It was very well received at the time of its release with some calling it the best collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne. What stopped me from watching this film? It’s a western.

I have not seen many westerns but I either find them fascinating or I yearn to reach for the off switch. The Ox-Bow Incident? One of my favourite films. Shane? I fell asleep. Rio Bravo? Amazing performance by Dean Martin. Cimarron? Never again. Probably doesn’t help that the first western-style film I ever saw was Blazing Saddles and I am not exactly a large fan of Mel Brooks humour.

Still, the fact that I have another western to add to the list that I enjoyed means that for the first time ever the balance has shifted towards the positive opinion. Whilst I always find John Wayne interesting to watch the thing that kept me watching was the dynamic between him and Jeffrey Hunter. Also the use of Vera Myles’s lovelorn character as a device to bridge time over the five year search worked exceptionally well.

I’m going to cut this short as I think the other film is more interesting to talk about but I want to leave with this thought. Natalie Wood does not appear in this film much at all and she features on the poster credits. Yes she is a name and her character is the driving force (much like a Godot figure) but… wait I just answered my own annoyance.


Title: Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will)
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Year: 1935
Country: Germany

It was really hard to find a screenshot for this film online without either Hitler or a swastika. I managed to find one with a decent cropping though.

Here is the thing about Triumph of the Will. It is a propaganda piece. As someone who has watched a large number of films I have seen many films that are controversial upon release due to subject matter. Birth of a Nation because of the blackface and its heroic depiction of the KKK, Irreversible because of the extensive rape scene, Salo because… well it has no morally redeeming features. This film is unusual to me since it has gained controversy since its release. The fact that it actually won prizes in countries other than Germany (most notably at the World Exhibition in Paris) shows how well Riefenstahl made this film.

There is no question of the intent. The many smiling faces of handsome German men, the enthralled crowds, the bountiful supplies of food for the workers and the hyperbolic praise of Hitler all act as ways to cement the appeal of the party within the German borders. Some of the shots that Riefenstahl uses to depict the parade scenes are breathtaking and somewhat ahead of the time; goes to show what a blank cheque to produce a propaganda film can lead to. Does make me want to see what she did with her documentary of the Olympics though.

It is rich, however, for the West to simply sideline this film as a piece of pro-Nazi propaganda since I actually recognise a number of these scenes in this film from Allied propaganda films that I have seen. A nice stroke to use German footage in the battle against them but we made Donald Duck cartoons (Der Fuehrer’s Face) as propaganda for children. Come on now.